Juneau author W.R. Kozey holds his book “Tall Tales of Alaska, The Red Dog Saloon: Stories from the Gold Rush & More” in front of the Red Dog Saloon on Sunday. (Jasz Garrett / Juneau Empire)

Juneau author W.R. Kozey holds his book “Tall Tales of Alaska, The Red Dog Saloon: Stories from the Gold Rush & More” in front of the Red Dog Saloon on Sunday. (Jasz Garrett / Juneau Empire)

First book published in series on Juneau’s history explores ‘Tall Tales’ of the Red Dog Saloon

Author W.R. Kozey’s stories come from folklore, his experience as a bartender at the saloon.

“Why is there sawdust on the floor?” A tourist asked Juneau author W.R. Kozey that question about the Red Dog Saloon on Sunday afternoon. Kozey looked up from signing copies of his book in the Red Dog Saloon Mercantile to answer.

“The real reason actually stems back to the Gold Rush days,” Kozey explained. “A lot of our customers were miners, right, and the miners would have little gold nuggets from their pay for the day from the mine.”

“Well, when they got drunk, those gold nuggets had a nifty way of finding their way out of the pockets and onto the floor. It’s a heck of a lot harder to find your gold nuggets if there’s sawdust there than on a hardwood floor. Back then, every so often, the bartender and the owner would rake up the sawdust and pick out all the little gold nuggets, and then put it back down the next day for when the miners came back. On those days, oftentimes, the saloon made more of what they found in the sawdust than what they had sold at the bar that day.”

A view of the inside of the Red Dog Saloon on Sunday. (Jasz Garrett / Juneau Empire)

A view of the inside of the Red Dog Saloon on Sunday. (Jasz Garrett / Juneau Empire)

This story about the roots of the Red Dog Saloon’s sawdust-covered floors is one chapter of many from the book “Tall Tales of Alaska, the Red Dog Saloon: Stories from the Gold Rush & More” published April 1 by Fathom Publishing.

Kozey said his inspiration to tell the saloon’s story stems from bartending there for the past six years.

“For the most part it’s local folklore and putting my own spin on it as I wrote it down,” Kozey said. “Bartenders and the ownership have told me stories. I’ve become a little bit of a storyteller behind the bar and the other bartenders tend to ask me to tell the story. I’ve always enjoyed writing things down and documenting neat stories I hear along the way.”

That’s what Kozey said makes his book about the Gold Rush different from the history books: it emulates “that oral tradition.”

“The Gold Rush is kind of like a magical time where anything went in Alaska,” Kozey said. “I don’t think a history book really captures that sort of authenticity where you’re sitting around having a beer, somebody is telling you the story about Alaska and about the Gold Rush. That’s what this book tries to do.”

Juneau author W.R. Kozey signs a copy of his book “Tall Tales of Alaska, The Red Dog Saloon: Stories from the Gold Rush & More” at his first signing event on Sunday. (Jasz Garrett / Juneau Empire)

Juneau author W.R. Kozey signs a copy of his book “Tall Tales of Alaska, The Red Dog Saloon: Stories from the Gold Rush & More” at his first signing event on Sunday. (Jasz Garrett / Juneau Empire)

He hosted his first book signing on June 2 and hopes his next signing will be at Alaska Juneau Mining. “Tall Tales of Alaska, the Red Dog Saloon: Stories from the Gold Rush & More” is dedicated to Red Dog Saloon owners Eric and Tracy Forst.

According to historical records, 1949 is the establishment date for the Red Dog Saloon. But the saloon was around before Alaska became a state, and as Kozey’s book details, the Red Dog Saloon first opened on Douglas Island as a tent in the early 1900s.

“They served miners from Treadwell Mine when it was in operation,” Kozey said. “Before the bridge got built the miners had to ferry into town to go to the bars and brothels on their days off. That’s what made us so successful is we brought the beer directly to them.”

Kozey said he finds the history of the Gold Rush interesting because “it changed Alaska’s landscape and brought people from all over the world to the shores of Alaska, and that melting pot of people has made Alaska into what it is today.”

He said his target audience for “Tall Tales of Alaska, the Red Dog Saloon: Stories from the Gold Rush & More” includes tourists and locals. He hopes tourists can share the Red Dog Saloon’s story back home and inspire others to visit and that it will educate locals on the history “right in their backyard.”

Juneau author W.R. Kozey smiles after signing a copy of his book “Tall Tales of Alaska, The Red Dog Saloon: Stories from the Gold Rush & More” at his first signing event on Sunday. (Jasz Garrett / Juneau Empire)

Juneau author W.R. Kozey smiles after signing a copy of his book “Tall Tales of Alaska, The Red Dog Saloon: Stories from the Gold Rush & More” at his first signing event on Sunday. (Jasz Garrett / Juneau Empire)

The illustrator of the book, Sam Grubitz, worked at the Red Dog Saloon with Kozey where they became good friends. He will also illustrate Kozey’s second book in the series.

The second book in the “Tall Tales of Alaska” series will capture a broader look at Juneau’s history and will be published in July.

“You’ll hear stories about Romeo the wolf, you’ll also hear about the ghosts of the Alaskan Hotel, and you’ll also hear some stories about things that happened here during the Prohibition as well as the Gold Rush,” Kozey said.

Kozey already has the third book of the series in the works: it will specifically focus on the history of the Alaskan Hotel.

“Tall Tales of Alaska, The Red Dog Saloon: Stories from the Gold Rush & More” is available at the Red Dog Saloon, Alaska Juneau Mining, Barnes and Noble, and Amazon.

• Contact Jasz Garrett at jasz.garrett@juneauempire.com or (907) 723-9356.

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